The FFA motto gives members twelve short words to live by; “Learning to do. Doing to learn. Earning to live. Living to serve.” When tragedy strikes it is important to reflect on those words and act accordingly.
An April 17 blast in the small Czech community of West, caused by the detonation of ammonium nitrate fertilizer at the West Fertilizer Company, left in its wake shattered lives, a 93-foot-wide crater and the loss of most of the West I.S.D. school buildings.
The nation and state rallied around the rural community, donating supplies and cash to replace fire trucks lost in the blast. However, most people were not aware that the school didn’t have enough insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding nearly the entire school district, and the West Agricultural Science Department was left without a way to deliver the hands-on learning experience that is the centerpiece of agricultural education and FFA.
Texas FFA Executive Director Tom Maynard learned of the predicament the West students were in through a chance conversation with agricultural science teacher Tim Sullins, who was facing the prospect of teaching skills such as welding and mechanics in a portable building without tools or the capacity to actually apply the classroom lessons. This is what led Maynard to activate the New Day Crisis Fund and send out a plea for help.
The New Day Crisis Fund was established to support agricultural education/FFA programs that have no other alternatives to restore their programs following a disaster.
“We knew that this community and school had no way of addressing this need for these students,” Maynard said. “And we were not about to abandon them.”
“We made the need known to our community and its supporters, and the response was immediate,” he said.
“There is a great life lesson to be gleaned by our students through this experience. If everyone does a little, the power of a unified movement is awesome” Maynard said.
“Living to serve” became more than words on a page. Long-time Texas FFA Foundation board member Randy Watson, who serves as Chairman of the Board for Justin Brands, received the request and saw an opportunity to bring other supporters alongside the grassroots student movement. He presented the need to agricultural education partners at the state’s major livestock shows.
Watson said “I didn’t do anything miraculous. I just simply made the five major stock shows in Texas aware of the situation.”
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Rodeo Austin, San Antonio Livestock Exposition, Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show and the State Fair of Texas joined the “living to serve” movement to restore “Leaning to do. Doing to learn” in West.
“We wanted to make a meaningful contribution and let the city of West and all of those kids know that these stock shows were there to help” Watson said. “However, we felt we needed to be a part of the solution, not the entire solution.”
“FFA itself is a life-changing experience,” he said. “But when these other chapters help a fellow chapter in need, these young kids across the state are learning a critical life lesson—helping family or friends in need.”
It's "living to serve" in action. The donations are being made through the New Day Crisis Fund for West FFA, established by the Texas FFA Foundation. Today the fund total has risen to more than $115,000 thanks to generosity from hundreds of schools, individuals and businesses. In addition, Rigid-Global Buildings of Houston has made an in-kind gift to the cause by providing the building for less than half of normal retail cost.
Texas FFA, "Living to serve," is leaving a legacy in West. Every Texas FFA member can be part of it and make it happen where they live.